December 15th, 2013
11:49 AM ET
9 years ago

McCain: CIA did not tell Congress the truth about Levinson

Updated 12:38 p.m. ET, 12/15/2013

(CNN) - Sen. John McCain joined CNN's "State of the Union" from Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday after the Arizona Republican addressed thousands of protesters who are angry over the Ukrainian government's decision to backpedal away from an agreement with the European Union.

McCain spoke about a range of issues happening around the globe, and suggested the Central Intelligence Agency was not truthful to Congress about former FBI agent Bob Levinson, who went missing in Iran seven years ago.

Here are five noteworthy points from the interview.

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1) McCain: More oversight needed of U.S. intelligence agencies

McCain said he was "confident we are doing everything that we can" to get former FBI agent Bob Levinson released from Iran, where he went missing seven years ago.

But the senator said he was disturbed at recent reports that Levinson was in fact working for the CIA in Iran, not conducting private business as officials have previously claimed.

"What disturbs me is apparently they did not tell the truth to the Congress. The CIA did not tell the truth to the American Congress about Mr. Levinson," he said. "If that's true, then you put this on top of things that our intelligence committees didn't know about other activities, which have been revealed by (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden - maybe it means that we should be examining the oversight role of Congress over our different intelligence agencies."

He added that any negotiations in Levinson's case should also include attempts to free other Americans who are believed to be in Iranian custody.

McCain also weighed in on the interim deal reached with international powers and Iran on the country's nuclear program. In exchange for easing of sanctions, Iran agreed to slow its nuclear development program as the world powers continue talks for another six months.

He said he thinks it's "very likely" the Senate will have a bill that restores some sanctions against Iran at the end of the six months if there's no result in further negotiations to dismantle Iran's program.

2) McCain says Putin is meddling

There's a political tug of war going on in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, with the western part of the country at odds with the eastern part – which is more closely aligned with Russia - over a failed deal with the European Union.

Last month, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did not sign a trade agreement with the European Union, choosing instead closer economic ties with Moscow. The move sparked mass protests, with thousands pouring into the capital city, furious over the government's sharp turnaround from previous efforts to better integrate with Europe.

McCain showed up this weekend, along with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, to express support.

"This is a grass-roots revolution here," McCain told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. "It's been peaceful, except for when the government tried to crack down on them, and the government hasn't done that since. But I am praising their ability and their desire to demonstrate peacefully for change that I think they deserve."

Protesters say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion. They accuse Yanukovych of preparing to take the country into a Moscow-led customs union.

Moscow has leverage that may have affected Yanukovych's decision last month to backpedal on the EU talks because Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas.

McCain, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the recent pressure on Ukraine is one more example of Putin asserting his power in other countries.

there's no doubt that Ukraine is of vital importance to Vladimir Putin. One of - I think it was Kissinger, I'm not sure, said that Russian without Ukraine is an Eastern power; with Ukraine it's a Western power.

"This is the beginning of Russia. It was right here in Kiev," McCain said. "So Putin views it as the most highly important, and he has put pressure on Ukrainians. The price of energy, different kinds of activities, and the word is very clear that he has made certain threats. Whether he would carry those through or not, I don't know."

McCain also said Putin "is now a player in the Middle East, which he has not been since 1973," adding Putin is "realizing, thanks to our weakness, some of his ambitions."

Given that the U.S. is trying to work on a deal with Russia to remove Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, Crowley asked McCain whether it was a good time to be taking on Russia.

"I don't think that we would be taking on Russia," McCain replied. "Look, these people (the protesters) love the United States of America, they love freedom, and I don't think you could view this as anything but our traditional support for people who want a free and democratic society."

"We're not talking about military action," he continued. "We're not talking about blockades. We're talking about the possibility of sanctions if they continue to brutally repress their people. That would require some action on our part, just because that's what the United States of America is all about."

3) 'Plead guilty'

McCain admitted Sunday he exaggerated when he compared President Obama's handshake last week with Cuban President Raul Castro to a handshake between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler at the start of World War II.

"I'm sure it was an exaggeration, Candy," he said. "If you want me to plead guilty here on CNN - guilty."

Obama faced a wave of criticism following his warm, though brief, greeting with Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.

"I think it was gross exaggeration," McCain said of the comparison. "But have no doubt that (the handshake) is of great propaganda value for the Cuban government, which is oppressive, repressive, continues to jail dissidents and continues to be one of the - probably easily the most repressive government in our hemisphere."

"I don't think you should shake hands with someone who continues to violate his own country's human rights," he continued. "It happened. But it is what it is. And I'm sure that Mr. Castro appreciated it."

The White House said the handshake was not preplanned, and officials pointed to Obama's comments in his speech that urged freedom in dictatorial societies.

4) McCain will vote for the budget bill

McCain said Sunday he'll vote for a compromise budget bill that would prevent another government shutdown.

"I hope it will pass the Senate," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We must not shut down the government again. We can't do that to the people of this country and my state."

The House approved the measure last week, but many GOP senators, raising a variety of concerns, are expected to vote against the bill. Despite their opposition, a few Republicans, including McCain, may help push the bill through the Senate.

Senate expected to pass budget bill – narrowly

McCain said he has spoken with military leaders who approve the deal because it "gives them relief from the harsh effects of sequestration."

Crowley asked if McCain would vote for the budget package as long as it stays the same.

"Yes," McCain said.

Final congressional approval would mark a rare win for bipartisanship and a step up for a Congress infected with political dysfunction and held in low public esteem, with midterm elections less than a year off.

5) 'This must be a huge embarrassment for China'

The execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle shows that the young North Korea leader is "dangerous," McCain said, noting the country's nuclear capabilities.

Because Jang Song Thaek, Kim's uncle by marriage, was believed to be a key figure in North Korea and a liaison between North Korea and China, McCain argued "this must be a huge embarrassment for China."

"It's very obvious this young man is capable of some very aberrational behavior, and given the toys that he has, I think it's very dangerous," McCain continued. "And you would think that the Chinese would understand that as well. They've got to rein this young man in, and they can."

- CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Susanna Capelouto, Ted Barrett, Jethro Mullen, Tom Watkins, Susan Candiotti, and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

Filed under: Iran • John McCain • North Korea • Russia • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. FrankinSD

    Putin is meddling? Hmm... and McCain is sightseeing?

    December 15, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  2. steve harnack

    "one more example of Putin exerting his power over other countries" Which, of course, is something that WE would never do! And which is, of course, something that McCain insists every day that we do a lot more of. The blatant hypocrisy that these windbags spout on a daily basis would be laughable if they didn't also wield such enormous power. Do they really believe the stuff that they say?

    December 15, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  3. Steve, New York City

    John McCain has my respect, not only for his tremedous service to this country during the Vietnam war, but also for pushing back against the most intolerant, xenophobic elements of the GOP during his 2008 campaign, when some of these folks truly crossed the line in their comments about Obama.
    That being said, I am puzzled why Senator McCain decides to insert himself in Eastern Europe so frequently. His intervention in the Republic of Georgia didn't seem to help that government very much in its conflict with Russia. . .and now he's in the Ukraine. Very odd.

    December 15, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. The Mullet

    CIA not telling the truth? Really? Wow. My Sunday morning is now fully destroyed. Oh God what will we do now?

    December 15, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. DP

    If you want to know who the US will bomb next, listen to McCain.

    December 15, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  6. Uncle Sam

    the CIA lied about something, that is big news.

    December 15, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. DaleW in MA

    Term limits is an idea way past due. The founding fathers never envisioned career politicians. Serve your term then go back home and deal with the consequences of your legislation. Do you think any of the rich (at taxpayer expense) elected clowns worry about going to the ATM and not having enough money there, or whether the person behind them has a gun or a knife. They're all petty ego driven privileged rich people wanting attention from the masses.

    December 15, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. Ernest

    It's interesting that McCain would choose Ukraine as a platform for expressing a view of continued support for continued disengagement with Cuba. Cuba and North Korea are two of the only remaining communist countries on the planet, and they are the only two that we haven't had relations with since Nixon went to China in 1972. Outside China and Vietnam (and even they have moved toward capitalistic economies, though retaining authoritarian governments), every other communist country, some three dozen in all spread across eastern Europe, Africa and Asia – the ones we continued to maintain relations with – have dissolved their communist state governments. Ukraine is one of those, and proof that engagement, vice disengagement is what is needed to foment change. Unfortunately Mr. McCain is still basking in his glory years of the cold war.

    December 15, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  9. JJ

    What a joke thinking that the CIA was going to tell the truth!
    They paid the family over 2 million to keep quiet so why would they tell the truth to elected officials???
    McCain isn't that smart ; is he???

    December 15, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  10. Real Nice Ted

    Does Ukraine only have a population of a few thousand people? If not – why do we care and what are we doing there?

    December 15, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  11. Evergreen

    I think most of us have learnt that even though people protest their government , it does not automatically mean though love the US.

    December 15, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  12. Nathan

    I think it's interesting to see America talking about how Russia is bad and such when both countries force their politics upon other countries.

    December 15, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  13. 2013

    Is the GOP in denial?

    McCain has the LOWEST approval rating in the senate – that includes all republicans. Why would the GOP have him give the state of the union?

    December 15, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  14. Larry Mandrell

    Man the liberal poges are sure scared of Sarah!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 15, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  15. geno marcello

    This is a time for statesmen to step forward if there are any left in our government. John Kerry isn't one, and I don't know of any Democratic Senators who are statesmen. But someone high in government should propose that Edward Snowden be offered amnesty if he returns to the United States and tells the government what he revealed to other contries. If the U.S. Justice Department can offer this to hit men for organized crime in return for their testimony that puts other higher-ups in prison, they can offer the same conditions to Snowden. No arrest, no prison time, no fine. Just tell everything so the government can protect itself against future leaks, and let Snowden lead a normal life. That would be the most intelligent thing the Obama Administration did since Obama was elected President.

    December 15, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  16. ang

    Go John!! I'd still vote for you again and again.... love that you stand up to the big pushers of the gov... keep on keeping on!! get obama out of here!!!!

    December 15, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  17. Larry

    The CIA didn't tell the truth? What's next, you'll say that Iran's nuke program is a military project?

    I always thought CIA stood for Caught In the Act.

    December 15, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  18. moreoversightisajoke

    Newspapers in our area are every week showing a different counties mayor and chief of police showing off their drones.

    December 15, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  19. Mopery

    Career politicians are the bane of our republic, they have mutated our government into one that serves only to protect the seats of political power. Gerrymandering has perverted the supposed democratic vote, ensuring a static ruling class made impotent by corruption. Laws are no longer written by Congress, instead they are written by corporate lobbyists, and filled with devious legal loopholes undermining the rule of law and faith in government. The Supreme Court is an entrenched monarchy, so out of touch with normal life that they consider corporations to have human rights. The Presidency is little more than a puppet show, in which corporations and the wealthy donate the maximum amount to both candidates in order to cover their bet. The Press no longer serves its original purpose of investigating and reporting facts to the people, instead focusing on sensationalism and pop culture nonsense, thereby ensuring an uninformed and ignorant public which is easily manipulated by fear-mongering. Even our language is being distorted into Orwellian Newspeak, with new nonsensical terms being introduced nearly every week. BP didn't create a disaster in the gulf, they "made a commitment" to America. Conniving Wall Street psychopaths can no longer be called rich, they must now be addressed as "job creators". Idiot offspring of the wealthy no longer face consequences for their own actions, they are now seen as victims of "affluenza" and given free reign to kill and kill again without fear of legal reprisal. Our courts, our government, our leaders, are the best that money can buy, and that's the root problem with America today. We shouldn't fear attack by other countries, we're too busy rotting from the inside out.

    December 15, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  20. Arnold

    The CIA not tell the truth? Gasps.......IMAGINE THAT

    December 15, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  21. ThinkAgain

    @Anonymous: "Thank you for the five point explanations. However, McCain could have said all of this and more without spending our money, travelling to Kiev, and putting on a show by addressing "thousands of prostesters". He managed to bash Putin and added a little more bashing on the President, ie "Putin is realizing, thanks to our weakness..............."

    Excellent point! I thought repubs were all about fiscal responsibility ... think of the meals that could have been served to our elderly, working poor, children, the disabled and vets with the money spent on McCain traveling to Kiev to shoot his mouth off.

    Perhaps Issa will open an investigation ...?

    December 15, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  22. American

    Cain: More oversight needed of U.S. intelligence agencies


    December 15, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  23. Don

    I am assuming that since the CIA is part of the Executive Branch, and the POTUS is the head of that, that either Bush (who was POTUS at the time) knew the CIA was not telling the truth, or, failed to control the agency; and, either way, will be taking responsibility for this breech of faith.

    December 15, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  24. Larry

    Does this somehow imply that the CIA has previously told the truth to someone?

    December 15, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  25. seafoodwatch

    McCain doesn't play golf with Castro and smoke Cuban cigars?

    December 15, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
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